By Simcha Cohen
The increase in aliyah from English-speaking countries over the past few years has considerably boosted the English-speaking population of Tzfat. Community leaders estimate that there are over 1000 English-speakers in Tzfat today out of a total population of 33,000.
New immigrants are drawn to Tzfat for a variety of reasons but the strong religious atmosphere is a big draw to many observant residents who are interested in living amongst a like-minded community of Jewishly-committed Anglos. Among these residents are many ba’alei teshuva who find the atmosphere in Tzfat to be a welcoming and accepting one for people who want to grow in their observance and commitment to Judaism.
Local institutions, including the Safed English Library, Livnot U’Lehibanot, the Ascent Institute, Lev U’Neshama and the Carlebach community along with communities such as Breslev, Chabad and Sanz provide information and assistance to newcomers. Two local e-newsletters, the Tzfat yahoogroup and the Tzfatline newsletter allow Anglos to trade information about subjects as diverse as available Torah classes, real estate offerings, car rides and homes for pets. These newsletters and self-help groups offer assistance to all, irregardless of community affiliation, and many ba’alei teshuva find this type of inclusiveness to be an attractive characteristic of Tzfat.
Anglos live in neighborhoods throughout Tzfat including the Old City and the Artist Quarter, the Darom, Cana’an, Ibikur, Biriya, Ramat Razim/Neve Oranim and Menachem Begin. The Chabad community’s center is in Cana’an, Breslev’s center is in Kiryat Breslev/Old City and the Sanz center is in the Old City. Many adherents of these groups, including ba’alei teshuva who are connected with these groups, look for housing near their community’s hub. However followers of these and other groups live in all areas of Tzfat. The Meor Chaim neighborhood is a “Haredi” — ultra-Orthodox — neighborhood comprised of Ashkanazim, Sepharadim, Hassidim, Litvaks and unaffiliated individuals. Apartments in this neighborhood are relatively low-cost.
Educational alternatives offer Tzfat residents a varied range of school options which present an array of options for newcomers who are planning their childrens’ schooling. Approximately 33% of the children in Tzfat attend Haredi schools and these range from Yiddish-speaking boys’ and girls’ schools to mainstream Beit Ya’akovs, Hassidic and Litvish cheders and Sepharadi Talmud Torahs. Another third of Tzfat’s schoolchildren attend national religious institutions. Alternatives include the Chabad school network with schools for boys and girls, a national religious boys’ Talmud Torah and state religious schools that meet all levels of a family’s observance. There are also several non-religious schools in Tzfat.